In a developing story in South Korea, Yoon Mee Hyang, former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan is now facing 8 counts of Fraud and Embezzlement charges following a bombshell revelation by a sexual slavery survivor back in May.
Yoon Mee Hyang is now the center of attention amid the COVID-19 pandemic that South Korea is facing right now. The former civic activist turned lawmaker – after winning a seat in this year’s April’s National Assembly under the satellite ruling Platform Party of the Democratic Party – has been charged in September 15 with 8 counts of Fraud and Embezzlement. These charges include political exploitation of sexual slavery survivors and fund misappropriation.
This is following a May 7 revelation by Lee Yong Soo, a 91 year old sexual slavery survivor that they have been politically exploited by the Korean Council for 30 long years which raised the questions of financial transparency and integrity. Local media also added allegations of Yoon and the Council pressuring the survivors sheltered under the organization to reject restitution offered by Japan.
Yoon served the Korean Council in 2002 until 2005 under the name of the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a predecessor of today’s Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance. Her civic efforts were largely applauded as she turned to draw attention to the World War II sexual atrocities affecting 200,000 women mostly Korean by Imperial Japan and pressing the Japanese government to apologize and compensate accordingly. During her time in the council, she also nullified a 2015 settlement contract between South Korea and Japan.
In 2013, the organization bought a 1 billion KRW ($815,727) shelter in Anseong, Seoul which was resold just this year below market price which led to suspicion of misappropriated funds. Moreover, her personal purchases in real estate were also put into question as well as the collection of financial gifts using her personal bank account during a funeral of an elderly survivor in 2019.
Stronger evidence is coming into light as a quasi-fraud charge is brought upon Yoon with details of her coercing 92 year old survivor suffering from dementia, Gil Won-Ok, to donate to the organization. In a statement, Gil Won Ok donated a total of 79.2 million KRW ($67,102) from November 2017 to January this year. Yoon accused prosecutors of disgracing Gil by insinuating that these were donation decisions Gil was incapable of making but a team of medical personnel confirmed otherwise and ruled Gil unfit of making such donations in the time covered.
Despite all allegations thrown towards her, Yoon remained her innocent stand and will plead Not Guilty on her trial. Although Yoon denies all allegations, she cancelled all public events last May 20 including a meeting with foreign correspondents and also skipped the seminar at the National Assembly for lawmakers who will start their first term this year.
The Democratic Party initially waived comments from the allegations as they await for two external audits, one commissioned by the Korean Council itself and another by the Ministry of Interior and Safety.
“It is the party’s position that checking on the facts about the alleged accounting fraud of the Korean Council is the first step,” chief spokesman for the DP, Rep. Kang Hoon-sik said. He also denied rumors of Yoon’s expulsion from the party noting that, “It is not right to [take an action such as expulsion] just based on reports.”
The main opposition United Future Party (UFP), on the other hand, demanded for a parliamentary probe surrounding these issues of Yoon but Rep. Kang rejected the proposition adding that a parliamentary level probe is too much.
This issue regarding Yoon has also sparked other related issues towards civic groups which are largely associated with the Democratic Party. In a radio interview with Rep. Noh Woong-rae, he expressed that these issues are damaging the healthy reputations of civic groups but UFP disagreed and stated that this is just the tip of the iceberg. For so long, civic groups thrive on government subsidies and public donations but are without proper oversight. Thus, hefty wealth acquisitions are easily dismissed issues even when they are in plain sight.
Cho Hae Jin, UFP lawmaker-elect, also added that, “This is not a just problem of the [Korean Council]. It is a ticking time bomb that will explode [and affect] overall civic society.”
And just yesterday after public allegations were turned into court charges, the Democratic Party suspended Yoon Mee-Hyang. Democratic Party chairman Lee Nak Yon clarified that Yoon will undergo proper process under the party’s regulations but will be removed for now in party affairs. Subsequently, DP Secretary General, Rep. Park Kwang-on also suspended her in any in-house posts.
Should Yoon be indicted guilty with fraud and embezzlement as charged, she will face expulsion from the Democratic Party.